Nyssa schools and SMILE students design native plant outdoor classroom

January 20, 2012
SMILE garden construction
SMILE students, as well as teachers and volunteers, dug up turf from the school lawn to create a garden. Photo: Barbara Brody
SMILE garden
The SMILE Native Plant Garden is a real-life place for kids to learn and a continual and on-going project. Photo: Barbara Brody

NYSSA, Ore. – The Native Plant Outdoor Classroom that has sprung up on the grounds of the Nyssa School District is a tribute to conservation of water and the historic importance of native plants to Native Americans.

The builders of the outdoor classroom, about 60 students in the SMILE club, as well as 12 teachers and several volunteers, began the project when they dug up turf from the school ground lawns and created a triangular-shaped garden with a base of 14 feet.

"Their work has enhanced their understanding of design principles, teamwork and project management," said Barbara Brody, Oregon State University 4-H Extension agent for Malheur County.

SMILE stands for Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences. It is a partnership between OSU 4-H and 14 Oregon school districts to provide science and math enrichment for under-represented and other underserved students in grades 4–12.

Before they began the project, the students took a trip to the Idaho Botanical Garden's Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden to get design ideas and collect research about native plants.

The SMILE teachers and youth worked together with the school district administration, groundskeepers and native plant experts to select a garden space. The next step was to develop a design plan that includes enriched soil, extended irrigation, walkways and rock "hardscaping." They purchased more than 40 water-wise native plants and developed interpretive signs.

The Native Plant Outdoor Classroom has become a walking field trip for high school environmental science classes and the district's after-school enrichment program, as well as for classroom teachers who want to enhance student learning about drought-resistant gardens.

Ken Dickey, Nyssa High School chemistry teacher and high school SMILE coordinator, said the Native Plant Outdoor Classroom is a model of native landscaping for anyone seeking drought resistant alternatives to traditional lawns.

"In addition, the geology classes have moved in several large stones and intend to move even larger ones," he said. "They are native rocks and will be labeled with signs, just as the plants are."

"We have also gathered seeds to try propagating plants in the spring," Dickey said. "That will be a great cycle to watch from beginning to end." The completed Native Plant Outdoor Classroom is a legacy of the project that he expects will be long-lasting.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Barbara Brody